If "narcoterrorism" continues to grow at its present rate, it will become the most immediate security threat to the United States in the Western Hempsphere before the year 2000.
Narcoterrorism, a union of drug money and revolutionary terrorist groups, has created power bases within Latin America that threaten the United States in two ways:First, they provide support for a drug industry that ships ever-increasing amounts of illegal drugs into the United States; and, second, they generate insurgent activities that threaten Latin American democracies.
Peru has an even more dangerous form of narcoterrorism. Narcoterrorists have taken effective control of Peru's Upper Huallaga Valley, which produces coca leaf for more than half the cocaine flowing into the United States. With each effort to attack coca leaf cultivation, it becomes apparent that antidrug forces in the region are outgunned and outmaneuvered.
Both the Peruvian and U.S. governments have recognized the threat in the Upper Huallaga Valley. In 1988, the government of Peru spent more than $150 million combating the valley's drug problem, while the United States spent more than $8 million in support of coca-eradication programs.
Last month, in a Bush administration program to step up the war against drugs, 30 armed Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agents were sent to the Upper Huallaga Valley to assist in coca eradication. Unfortunately, these agents will have little impact. They are part of a strategy of direct law enforcement in a situation where direct law enforcement never will work.
As long as anti-drug efforts ignore the economic realities underlying the drug trade, law enforcement will prove futile.
The 5,000 peasant families in the region provide the perfect labor force because they have never been integrated into the national economy and have scant means of subsistence.
Sendero Luminoso, or The Shining Path, offers the perfect protection for the drug trade because of its militant anti-government operations and its ideology of fighting for the common man.
Coca cultivation is the sole livelihood of the inhabitants of the Upper Huallaga Valley. Any attempt to destroy it without offering a feasible alternative means war.
The strategy of the narcoterrorists has recently shifted from defensive to offensive; any economic activity besides that tied to the drug trade is attacked.
The minds behind narcoterrorism realize that economic isolation is a condition necessary to their designs. It is equally clear that U.S. policy-makers are failing to recognize this fact.
In debt-burdened Latin American economies with triple-digit inflation, narco-dollars can control entire sectors of the population. If the United States does not work to remove the economic stranglehold the drug industry has on the economies of the region, all the law enforcement in the world will not work.
The international community must band together and help bolster its weakened members for the fight against the drug trade's seductive lure. Western democracies must go beyond direct law enforcement and develop aggressive strategies addressing the socioeconomic roots of narcoterrorism.
The United States will eventually be forced to deal with narcoterrorism. Whether it is now, on the terms of the democratic powers, or later, on the terms of the narcoterrorists, depends largely on the actions of the new administration.